How to Get More Bass in Your Car

get more bass in your car
Given infinite money, and an infinite desire for bass in your car, you might well end up with something like this. When working with more modest means, there are other options. Maica / E+ / Getty

Getting more bass in your car usually means prying open your wallet and forking over for an upgrade of some kind, but throwing money at a problem is rarely the best way to fix it. If you already have an amplifier and subwoofer, for instance, properly tuning your system may yield the desired effects without spending a dime.

If you don't already have a subwoofer, then you'll need to add one if you want really deep, booming bass.

On the other hand, if you care more about clarity than rattling your teeth out of your jaw, simply upgrading your speakers could get you the sound you are searching for.

Can You Get Better Bass in a Car Without an Amp or Subwoofer?

The cold, hard truth is that you’re not going to get really good bass in a sound system that doesn’t include both a subwoofer and an amplifier to drive it. The issue is that car speakers, even really good car speakers, aren’t big enough, and built-in car stereo amps aren’t powerful enough, to reproduce deep, distortion-free bass.

That being the case, upgrading your stock car speakers can still yield some pretty powerful results. Replacing just the speakers does put some hard limitations on what you can expect out of an upgrade, but the higher quality materials found in aftermarket speakers can make a world of difference in both overall sound quality and bass response.

The main problem is that even the best coaxial speakers can’t hold a candle to an actual subwoofer, so while it is possible to achieve better bass response with a simple speaker upgrade, it's important to temper your expectations. The sound quality will almost certainly improve, but the bass will not boom.

Check Your Bass and Treble Tone Controls First

Before you spend any money on improving your bass, it's important to make sure that there isn't something much simpler going on with your car radio. For instance, it's always possible that the tone control settings were changed without your knowledge. If you feel like your car stereo used to have more bass than it does now, it's likely that these settings were changed.

Tone controls may take the form of physical nobs or sliders on your car radio, or you may have to access a menu to find them. When all else fails, break out your owner's manual and look for a section on car radio tone controls.

If you find that the treble has been turned way up, or the bass has been turned way down, adjusting them may yield results that satisfy your ear. In some cases, adjusting the fade to favor the rear speakers may also help, as they often have bigger speaker cones. However, without some kind of subwoofer, simply cranking up your bass tone control can only do so much.

The Cheapest Way to Get Better Bass in Your Car

Assuming you don’t already have a car radio, or head unit, with line-level outputs, the cheapest, easiest way to really improve the bass in your car is to install a powered subwoofer that has speaker-level inputs

The difference between line-level and speaker-level is that the signal provided by speaker-level outputs has already been amplified by circuitry in the head unit. If you pass that signal through a normal external amplifier, you'll introduce a bunch of distortion and your bass definitely won't sound good at all.

When an external amplifier has speaker-level inputs, you don't have to worry as much about that distortion. Buying one of these units can also be less expensive than purchasing a separate amp and subwoofer, and they are also pretty easy to install.

Can You Install a Powered Subwoofer Yourself?

The basic process of installing a powered subwoofer unit involves tapping into your speaker wires, splitting them out, and connecting them to the sub.

The unit then has to be wired into your electrical system, which requires running a hot lead from the fuse box or battery.

Overall, installing a powered subwoofer just a little more involved than upgrading a head unit or installing new speakers. If you are comfortable with that type of work, the biggest hurdle is running a hot wire that could potentially short out if done improperly.

Aside from ease of installation, the benefits of installing a powered subwoofer that takes speaker-level inputs are that you don’t have to upgrade your head unit, and you end up with much better bass response. The sound quality probably won’t touch what you might get out of a dedicated subwoofer amp and separate sub, but you will get deep, booming bass for less total expense and hassle.

Are Dedicated Subwoofer Amps Necessary for Good Bass?

While a powered sub can get the job done on a budget, finding a really great amp, and pairing it with the right subwoofer, will typically yield even better results.

The main issues here are that if you aren’t also planning on upgrading your head unit, you may still have to go with a subwoofer amp that features speaker-level inputs. The other options are to use a speaker to line-level converter or upgrade to a head unit that offers line-level outputs.

That said, your best bet to get really solid bass in your car is to go with a dedicated subwoofer amplifier. You’ll find that the best amp for bass in your car is a mono, 1-channel amp that is designed specifically for use with subwoofers.

Although you can technically wire any old amp to drive a subwoofer, it's a little more complicated than just plugging components together. If the amp isn't capable of handling the subwoofer, it may go into protect mode or fail altogether.

Finding the Best Amp for Bass in Your Car

When choosing a subwoofer amp, it’s important to take the rest of the sound system into account so that you don’t totally overpower it.

In order to do this, you'll want to fit your subwoofer amp into a general range defined by the root-mean-square (RMS) output of the amp in comparison to the type of car stereo system you have in your car.

You can dig into this as deeply as you want to fine tune things before pulling the trigger on your upgrade, but a good rule of thumb is:

  • About 50-200 watts RMS for factory head units.
  • Between 200-300 watts RMS for aftermarket head units.
  • Between 5-10x the watts RMS per channel if the system already has an amp.

It’s also extremely important to research your new amp and sub at the same time. While subwoofer amps are designed to work with a wide range of subs, you can’t just assume that any given sub and amp will be compatible.

In general, you want to choose an amplifier with an RMS output rating that matches or slightly exceeds the rating of your sub. It's also important to impedance match the sub and amp, which basically just means you need to look at the impedance of the subwoofer and make that the amp you choose will work with it. For instance, if you choose a 1-ohm subwoofer, you'll want to pair it with an amplifier that can handle a 1-ohm load.

This is pretty simple if you’re only adding a single sub, but it can get complicated when wiring multiple subs to one amp.

How to Improve Bass in a Car

While adding a subwoofer and an amp is instrumental in getting great bass in any car audio system, installing the components is only the first step in a longer process. What that means is if you already have a sub in your car, but you feel like your bass doesn’t sound that great, you can probably tweak things so that they sound a whole lot better.

The main issue is that if you just stick a subwoofer into your car audio system without then tuning the system, you’re pretty likely to end up with distortion and muddy sound. If you take some time to tune the system, the bass will usually end up sounding a lot better.

The basic steps in tuning a car audio system with a subwoofer amp are:

  1. Turn the subwoofer amp gain all the way down, turn the low-pass filter all the way up, and turn the bass boost off.
  2. Turn the head unit on and set all of the tone controls to their middle settings.
  3. Play a piece of music you are familiar with that includes high, mid-range, and very low notes.
  4. Adjust the volume on the head unit to between 25 and 75 percent of max.
  5. Slowly turn up the gain on the amplifier until you hear clipping.
  6. Back off the gain until the distortion goes away.
  7. Slowly lower the low-pass filter until you can no longer hear any mid- and high-frequency sounds, like those from guitars and vocals, coming from the subwoofer.
  8. If your amplifier has a bass boost function, and you aren’t satisfied with the level of bass at this point, go through the entire process again, from step one, with bass boost enabled.

While tuning your subwoofer amp can be instrumental in getting the best bass response possible, it’s important to note that if your audio system has any other amps, they need to be tuned separately.

The Importance of Subwoofer Enclosures and Locations

In addition to properly tuning and adjusting your subwoofer amp, there are a few other factors that can affect the quality of the bass in your sound system. For instance, moving a sub around inside your vehicle, or even turning it around, can have a huge effect.

In some cases, you will even find that reversing the polarity of the subwoofer speaker wires results in an improvement. This basically means just swapping the position of the wires that connect the amp to the sub. However, you will have to re-tune the system after making a switch like that.

If you still aren’t satisfied with the quality of the bass in your car, then the only options left are to have a professional tune it or to upgrade to a more powerful amp and subwoofer or subwoofers. Taking it to a professional is a good idea if you aren’t totally comfortable with the tuning process since they will have the expertise and tools to do the job right.

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